It was easy to overlook The Birdcage when it was released. Based on the French film La Cage aux Folles, it did well at the box office, but felt at the time like more Robin Williams slapstick: soaking up Hollywood’s newfound tolerance for homosexuals and repeating trite observations about tolerance and understanding. In retrospect, however, it looks like a comedic masterpiece. The jokes hold water across multiple viewings and the skewering of right-wing homophobia feels more timely now than ever. More importantly, Williams and Nathan Lane play their characters — a Miami nightclub owner and his flamboyant main attraction — as more than just swishy stereotypes. They genuinely care about each other and — devoid of the preachiness of Philadelphia and its ilk — come across as authentic in ways its contemporaries couldn’t. Williams, in particular, delivers one of the better performances of his career: surprisingly disciplined and with a keen eye on the big picture. It opened today in 1996.
For those of you, like me, who were absolutely crushed by the wretched Will Smith version of I Am Legend, look to Vincent Price to save the day. He starred in an earlier version of the story, The Last Man on Earth, which suffered from a low budget but still managed to capture the core of the Richard Matheson source novel far better than Hollywood’s crass and noisy butchery. It opened today in 1964.